Making Sauerkraut

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Photo by Pixabay/kaarenhaywood

Where do you stand on the “sauerkraut scale”? Some folks can’t get enough of the fermented cabbage, others avoid it at all costs, and many may eat a few bites on New Year’s Day with their pork chop and mashed potatoes but won’t seek it out any other time. We are big fans of sauerkraut here at Innisfree – I had been buying Ohio-made kraut from a local store, but the bags are small, and even as delicious as their varieties are, the cost was adding up. My cabbage didn’t produce this year, but I found heads from a local vegetable producer. Once I had my source, I pulled out my equipment, purchased a few things, and was ready to make my own!

Two gallon crock. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

I was happy to find a 2-gallon crock in the basement in excellent condition, with no chips on the inside glaze. If you don’t have a pottery crock handy, you can do your fermenting in glass canning jars just as easily. We found a product called “Pickle Pebbles” that are glass weights made especially for small and large mouth glass canning jars. I used them this year as an experiment, and they worked great to keep the cabbage underneath the brine. Plus, if you decide to can your sauerkraut, there is no dipping from a crock to a canning jar! For my 2-gallon crock, I purchased an appropriately sized glass weight from an online company called Stone Creek Trading. If you search for “glass fermentation weights,” you will find many places to buy from. I decided not to buy a pottery weight after reading about bacteria staying in the clay, but I have no direct experience with these weights, so your mileage may vary! And if you don’t want to buy anything fancy, you can use a jelly jar weighted down with beans/rice/pebbles/etc. As long as the smaller jar is heavy enough to keep the food under the brine, you’re good to go.

Glass fermentation weights and fermenting cabbage. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

To start the process, I pulled out my copy of Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. He has written several fantastic books on fermenting foods and beverages, but this one is my go-to for nice, simple recipes, although some of them are more guidelines and suggestions than actual recipes. Fermentation is an art, as well as a science, and Katz keeps the art front and center. I highly recommend all of his books, and his website is a wealth of information as well. If you have a copy of the Ball Blue Book, it also has a simple recipe, plus the canning instructions.

Sauerkraut is little more than shredded cabbage, salt, water, a container and weight, and time. You can add many things, like onions and garlic, but the base layer is cabbage and brine. Katz encourages people to dip into the sauerkraut as it ages/ferments to experience the complexity that develops. Having done this, I concur that the taste does change as the fermentation process continues, especially when adding things. The batch of cabbage + garlic sauerkraut went through some remarkable changes as time passed, and the flavors enhanced and mingled. When I canned that batch, the taste brought literal tears to my eyes – I may have let it ferment a little too long because it was potent! I guess it will keep my sinuses clear – hah!

A pint wide-mouth canning jar with the “Pickle Pebble” holding down the cabbage. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

Close-up of the small glass fermentation weight. Photo by Keba M Hitzeman

Homemade sauerkraut, whether fresh or canned, is such a delicious way to preserve cabbage. Whether you ferment one head of cabbage in a few glass canning jars or fill a 5-gallon crock with cabbage, onions, garlic, carrots, and turnips, I think you will be surprised at the difference in taste from just about anything you can buy in the store.

What are your favorite things to ferment?